Public Interest Tech

Algorithmic Justice at UC-Berkeley: Cultivating Public Interest Technology Scholars and Career Pathways 

About the Public Interest Technology - University Network Grant

In partnership with the D-Lab and Cal NERDS (NERDS stand for “New Experiences for Research and Diversity in Science”), the Algorithmic, Fairness, and Opacity Group (AFOG) has been awarded a grant from the New America Public Interest Technology University Network to cultivate a pipeline for undergraduate public interest technology scholars at UC Berkeley.

Public interest technology (PIT) refers to the study and application of technical expertise to advance the public interest in a way that generates public benefits and promotes the public good, particularly for those members of our society least well served historically and today by existing systems and policies. The Public Interest for Technology Network is a partnership that fosters collaboration among colleges and universities committed to building the nascent field of public interest technology and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists.

Public Interest Technology University Network

PIT-UN Programming

In collaboration with the D-Lab and Cal NERDS, AFOG is developing programming to support undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to deepen their technical skills and explore the social and political implications of algorithmic systems. By centering issues of justice — rather than technology or specific approaches and methods from STEM fields — this program seeks to develop and train diverse students and scholars with the knowledge and skills to create, use, assess, and critique technologies in service of the public interest.

In concrete terms, we have developed the following programming: 

  • Hosting public lectures to expose students to leaders in the field of public interest technology, more information here.
  • Offering hands-on-workshops with undergraduate students to help students’ critically reflect on their technical practices. 
  • Connecting undergraduate students to research opportunities and internships in the field of public interest technology. 
  • Helping students imagine themselves as public interest technology practitioners through events that connect them to scholars and practitioners in the field.
  • Supporting the CalNERD’s STEMinist bootcamp that exposes students from non-dominant backgrounds to coding and data science.

Support for this work is provided by the Public Interest Technology University Network Challenge Fund, a fiscally sponsored project of New Venture Fund. The Public Interest Technology University Network’s challenge grants are funded through the support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund with support from Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, The Raikes Foundation, Schmidt Futures and The Siegel Family Endowment.

Learn more about PIT at UC Berkeley

In June of 2018, the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group (AFOG) held a summer workshop with the theme “Algorithms are Opaque and Unfair: Now What?.” The event was organized by Berkeley I School Professors (and AFOG co-directors) Jenna Burrell and Deirdre Mulligan and postdoc Daniel Kluttz, and Allison Woodruff and Jen Gennai from Google. Our working group is generously sponsored by Google Trust and Safety and hosted at the UC Berkeley School of Information.

Inspired by questions that came up at our biweekly working group meetings during the 2017-2018 academic year, we organized four panels for the workshop. The panel topics raised issues that we felt required deeper consideration and debate. To make progress we brought together a diverse, interdisciplinary group of experts from academia, industry, and civil society in a workshop-style environment. In panel discussions, we considered potential ways of acting on algorithmic (un)fairness and opacity. We sought to consider the fullest possible range of ‘solutions,’ including technical implementations (algorithms, user-interface designs), law and policy, standard-setting, incentive programs, new organizational processes, labor organizing, and direct action.

Deirdre Mulligan

Professor, School of Information

Claudia Natalia von Vacano

Executive Director of the D-Lab

Diana L. Lizarraga

Director, Cal NERDS

Nick Melamed

Student Director, Cal NERDS

Kseniya Usovich

Student Director, Cal NERDS

Karla Palos Castellanos

Student Director, Cal NERDS

Jeremy David Johnson

PIT-UN Postdoc, School of Information

Zoe Kahn

PhD Student, School of Information